That Certain Spark, by Karen McCullough

I recently finished reading a book for a contest that got me thinking about what makes a book enjoyable. The book in question was well-written, had an interesting central idea, a decent basic plot, and a group of potentially interesting characters. All the ingredients that should make for a good read.

It wasn’t. In fact, it was a slog to keep going through it. When I tried to figure out why, I came up with one word: shallow. The dialogue was smooth but a little stilted. It advanced the plot but offered very little insight into the characters speaking. The descriptions were reasonable but rather uninteresting. The writing was good and kept the story going but didn’t delve into anything other than surface descriptions of a large group of characters and a rather complex macguffin.

It was missing the magic ingredient that turns a competent story, with decent plot and good characters, into an interesting one. Something that’s hard to put your finger on, but you know it when it’s there. Or not there. Texture. Depth. Resonance.

Of course, knowing that doesn’t tell you how to fix it. I like to think it’s all about the detail. As texture of fabric and depth come from varying heights of the yarns, texture in a story comes from varying levels of detail. You don’t describe everything in the story in depth as that would not only grow tiresome quickly it would make all your stories much, much longer than they need to be. But some pieces of the story don’t demand the same amount of attention as others. 

Deciding what details to use is part of the art of storytelling. It’s finding that right thing to include that helps the reader see more than just the one thing.

In the opening scene of my recent romantic suspense release, Hunter’s Quest, my heroine is driving in the North Carolina mountains. I describe dark woods that come up to the edge of the winding road, wildflowers blooming along the edge and the aroma of honeysuckle wafting through the air. I could have added the chirping of birds, the tangled undergrowth, small animals running across the pavement, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel like those details were needed and I didn’t want to overload the paragraph with description.

I hope I set the scene well enough so that when the crack of a rifle shot shatters the peace and a man runs out in front of her car, the contrasts will shock the reader into awareness and draw them into wanting to know more about what’s going on.

Blurb for Hunter’s Quest: Kristie Sandford's vacation is interrupted when a man jumps out in front of her car. She avoids hitting him, but when she stops to see if he's hurt, he demands she help him escape from the people chasing him. Kristie has an odd "gift" - she occasionally gets warning messages, and she gets one saying he needs her help or he'll die. Jason Hunter is an NC SBI (North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation) agent working on his own time searching for a friend, an investigative reporter who disappeared while tracking down rumors of corruption in the bureaucracy of a small mountain town. Jason is grateful to Kristie for rescuing him, but dubious when she insists she has to continue helping him. Kristie is attracted to Jason, but the edge of danger she senses in him reminds her too much of the abusive family she escaped as soon as she could.

Still, the message said he'd die if she didn't help him, and the messages have been right before.


Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, seven grandchildren (soon to be eight) and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.

Author’s links:


Linda Thorne said…
Nice post, Karen. Looks like you've been busy with your writing. Good to see you, and the little guy you're holding is precious.
I thought this was a great post. Thanks for being my guest, Karen.

Popular posts from this blog

it's Not a Cozy! by Mar Preston


The Power of Identity by Donna Urbikas